"For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God." (Luke 1:15-17 AV)
Note:The emphasis upon "you shall have joy...for he shall be..." indicates that the joy is going to last. It will not be just a short experience of joy because a son has been born.
The focus is upon John's future status, behavior, condition and impact.
1. Status: great before the Lord.
2. Behavior: shall not drink wine or strong drink.
3. Condition: filled with the Spirit from the womb.
4. Impact: conversion of many in Israel to prepare Messiah's way.
1. Greatness before the Lord:
Matthew 5:19 -- the one who both does and teaches God's word shall be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 20:26 -- greatness does not consist of exercising authority over others, but of providing for others what they need.
Luke 1:32 -- Jesus is also said to "be great" and the heir of the Davidic throne.
Luke 7:28 -- here the "Lord" acknowledges the greatness of John as 'much more than a prophet', but there is a caveat -- the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he!
Luke 9:48 -- the "least" among you shall be "great"; i.e., the one who sees himself as 'least' and, therefore, willingly serves others as 'greater than me'.
Summary: "Greatness", whether it be a 'loud' voice, or an 'impressive' person or event, consists of the capacity to arrest the attention of others. It is, fundamentally, a status word in that it gets the person into the center of the attention of others. It has to do with how the "others" are impressed as an expression of the values they hold. That John was to be great before the Lord means that the Lord was going to use him in a way that no one else would be used. The angelic announcement was designed to create the impression that John was born to Zacharias and Elizabeth for the purpose of being a unique instrument of God. This would bring "joy" to them as those who were used to bring this unique instrument into being. There is 'greatness' in bringing a 'great one' into being. For those to whom the approval of God is paramount, there is nothing that is more joyful than to be instrumental in producing others to whom the approval of God is paramount. John says "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." (3 John 1:4 AV).
2. Not drinking wine or strong drink:
This is an interesting reference in that it stands as one of four major characterizations of John at his introduction by Gabriel. As such, it probably refers to his identity as a Nazarite since the abstention from both new and old wine was one of the qualities of this separated class of persons. But that brings us to this: What is the reason that abstinence from fermented drink is highlighted for the general class of Nazarites and/or for the description of John? In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul commanded believers to "be not drunk with wine...but be filled with the Spirit...." This is a parallel issue. What is the connection between the input of the physical (drinking wine) and the development of the Spiritual? For a life-long teetotaller who still does not seem to have a great deal of Spiritual reality, this is a significant question. DO and, then, HOW DO the appetites of the body affect the development of Spirituality?
Proverbs 31:6 -- the drinking of fermented drink was for the purpose of causing the drinker to no longer mentally dwell on his (fearful) problems.
Proverbs 20:1 indicates that both wine and strong drink "deceive" those that drink them -- i.e., remove them from a clear sense of reality.
Luke 7:33-34 -- John was characterized as neither "eating" nor "drinking" and the accusers said of him that he had a "demon" [a connection between abstinence and spirit]. Jesus, alternatively, came both "eating" and "drinking" and the accusers said of Him that He was both "gluttonous" and a "winebibber". Why is it that John was characterized as a teetotaller unto Spiritual power and Jesus, Who had far greater Spiritual power, was not at all characterized that way? Their bodies were different in that John's came under the curse and Jesus' was free of the curse. But, Jesus' disciples followed His lead, not John's (Luke 5:33).
Matthew 20:22-23 -- Here "drinking" is metaphoric. The symbolism is that a person "drinks" his experience (Matthew 26:42) in the sense that, just as his body is impacted by the liquids that enter it, his true self is impacted by the experiences to which he is subjected. When Jesus spoke of drinking the Water that He had to give, He was communicating something highly significant in the non-physical realm -- in the realm of true relationship between man and his Creator Who is "spirit".
Luke 12:45 -- the unfaithful servant is characterized as "eating and drinking" and "beating his fellow servants".
Summary: It's all about the "quality of experience". Just as the body has appetites that, when satisfied, give it a sense of contentment/satisfaction, the soul/spirit have appetites that must also be addressed in order for contentment to come. The question is whether what we feed the appetites with can actually produce the desired result. [Even nasty tasting food and drink can bring the after-sense of fulness]. Abstaining from things that would distort our perception of reality is a wise behavior. It was required of Nazarites (it was not required of Jesus since His body was exempt from the impact of the curse) and it continues (Ephesians 5) to be enjoined upon us to some degree. The connection between being "great before the Lord" and being a "Nazarite" seems to consist in the commonality of commitment to the Lord's plan of action. The Lord, on the one hand, is committed to the plan and has shown it by producing John; and John, on the other hand, is committed to the plan and will show it by not permitting anything to fog his grasp of both objective and methods.
3. Being filled with the Spirit from the womb (yet in the womb):
What does it mean to be "filled with the Holy Spirit"?
Luke 1:41 -- Elizabeth was suddenly "filled with the Spirit" and she spoke inspired words.
Luke 1:67 -- Zacharias was suddenly "filled with the Spirit" and he prophesied.
Luke 4:28 -- the people, when hearing Spiritual words, were "filled with wrath".
Acts 2:24 -- the upper room disciples were "filled with the Spirit" and began to speak in tongues.
Acts 4:8 -- Peter was "filled" and "spoke unto them".
Acts 4:31 -- they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and "spoke the Word of God...".
Acts 13:9-10 -- Paul was filled "and spoke...".
Ephesians 5:18-19 -- being filled with the Spirit is immediately tied to "speaking".
There is this connection in all of these references: fulness of the Spirit leads to speaking true words. The prophecy of John was not a prophecy that he would be a perfect person, but that he would utter true words. However, James says that if a man utters legitimate speech consistently, the same is a perfect man -- implying that truth speaking only consistently occurs when a person is spiritually mature. This characterization may actually shed light upon both the 'greatness' issue and the Nazarite commitment. Being filled with the Spirit means that the dominant authority in John's life was God and not his own spirit. This is a huge bug-a-boo to most of us who do not wish to have someone else determining what and how we will do what we do. This issue [dominion/privilege of control] seems to be at the core of most of our lives. When we step back and look at it, it is rather ridiculous that the issue is not so much what we do but who gets to decide what we will do. As soon as we give up dominion, we find that we enjoy most of what we call living.
4. Impact: getting others to do the very same thing he has done! In other words, his life of selflessness toward God and others will be reproduced by the Spirit of God as He dominates his life.